My Cart Runneth Over
No Direction Home
Squatting on a fissured ridge-top in the Sierras, I run my finger along an ancient line etched by rocks dragging in glacial ice. Around me on the expansive stone surface, tiny repetitive patterns reveal themselves. These marks: snakes, hands, eclipsed suns, animals and what look like maps, were painstakingly pecked into being by hands like mine. I am drawn to this exposed landscape for traces of a deep relatedness I crave in this turbulent time. This place has a resonance for me. So much seems lost of our conversation with this remarkable planet.
Grinding holes near the pictographs are all the same size and depth, evenly spaced for communal pounding of medicines and food. I hear and see people across time, laughing and gesturing, working together. This place at the confluence of rivers was once home to many people, a generous rest-stop after a long, difficult migration. This sanctuary reverberates like a bow drawn slowly across the strings of a cello. All living beings, plants, stones and rivers are included. Near me, a bright green Praying Mantis and a tiny, ebony Fence Lizard face off on a huge granite erratic. The enormous uncrossable sheet of ice which deposited it, is now just a ghost. Things change. Even very large and unimpeachable things like glaciers, like home.
A friend from long ago invited me to visit her and her new partner in their mobile home, a two vehicle caravan they now live in as they wander back and forth across the continent. The forested RV park they were temporarily living in was enormous and packed with vehicles of every size and shape. Is this the new normal? I left as quickly as I could, sweating in fear of this lifestyle as a necessary choice. And yet, is home necessarily stationary?
This morning as I packed to leave for my hike, a tiny fawn, still in spots, mewled in confusion at a new wire fence. The comforting scents of mother, home, family had somehow misled him. He could find no way to follow them past this strange obstruction. What is the strange new obstruction that intersects my understanding of home, safety, ease? Are we all feeling this surprising disconnect?
A Zen koan asks: Why can’t an enlightened woman free herself from prisons drawn on the ground? Well, who decides to draw them? I ask myself. Ancient people were always moving. Is my concept of home a prison on the ground?
I catch the insistent shimmer of unobstructed ease.
Go straight on a mountain road with 99 curves
I took this photo while walking near my home. Remarkably enough it is a speed-bump on my winding rural road. They are there to slow people down so they don’t run over innocent animals, or other humans while rushing headlong to take care of daily business. But is there anything more annoying than a speed bump when you are wrapped up in your dream of forward momentum?
These odd bumps have always seemed darkly comical to me as I check my speedometer in the middle of an oak forest. The notion of living ‘in the country’ to enjoy the slower pace of life, and then needing speed bumps to remind me that beings can actually die from my forgetting. Delusion can kill you. Wow. I see that. I have learned to bless the small animal bodies, avoid them, and then turn away and travel on. It reminds me of a war term for the dead: collateral damage.
This road is also a place I can walk without getting in my car, the better to drive to a trail for a hike. So it is convenient, but not what I think of as inspiring - it is not what I want. I noticed I was feeling oppositional to everything about it. Not just the speed bumps and signs for them, but the litter by residents, the fractured surface of the road, the stupidity of the power poles, the lack of life and care. I decided to take my camera out as an ally for finding a new perspective.
These yellowed, asphalt bumps have always interested me, and made me laugh at my relentless preoccupation, but I never saw their beauty until I slowed myself way down to a snail’s pace and explored the actual road. I highly recommend this. We are all so used to traveling with greatest possible speed, but look at what comes up on the road when you slow way down.
In my most recent encounter with this koan I discovered that going straight did not necessarily imply movement of any kind. I saw myself as the road, full of all the fractures and speckles. And then was visited by vivid views of other places I have tucked away emotionally as ‘no visit’ zones - I ventured into my childhood home and saw each room and the layout in incredible detail. I had no idea that I remembered this. I saw my blind grandmother as my guide, sitting as she often did quietly, meditating in my parent’s blue bedroom. Another gift of the ultimate. slowdown. Not about doing, or going at all. Those speedbumps became my best friends - they had pointed the way. Now when I walk the road I feel the lightness, that intimate touch of the universe.
From a koan report given at Pacific Zen Institute's Rockridge Meditation Center in Oakland - The Zen koan that helped me out was: 'Go straight on a mountain road with 99 curves'.
Am I a Ghost?
Am I a Ghost? by Corey Hitchcock
I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed a blueish light illuminating my other larger studio room. Oh drat, I thought I forgot to turn the light off. Unusual for me because I crave the quiet dark here at night. I meant to get up and turn it off, but must have fallen back to sleep because I woke again about an hour later by the clock and there was no light on in the other room. I got up this time and tried to duplicate the light I had seen, but nothing I turned on was the source.
I couldn't go back to sleep and reviewed the strange events of my day with increasing panic. Everything had seemed ghostly to me including my local koan group which had a strangely unformatted meeting - no one was set up to lead, the host thought it was a week off, we used a small frying pan for the missing bell. Normally I would be able to laugh or shake off this absurdity, but now it was propelling my ghostliness.
I began to feel that perhaps I was the ghost in my own life. I understood Butoh suddenly from the inside out. I was trying to hold on to things that were not alive. Maybe I was the representative of things that were not alive. Or was this just the proximity of ghostly breath that abounds? Our hungry ghost president and congress, my somewhat fractured extended family, the ghost of usual celebrations, the somnambulance of comfortable responses, the strange late winter and group of deer at my door silently asking - is it spring? Maybe they were asking if they were alive. And overall the replacement of intimate touch and conversation with the ghostly internet.
Could this be my zen koan - The stone woman gives birth in the middle of the night having its way with me? Can I tag it to my re-reading an article on a zen priest's belated response to the influx of ghosts after the tsunami? Maybe, but I began to see the many places I seek connection and don't find it. And the many places I don't fully respond. I don't have a bow to tie up this ghostly deliberation with. Still in it. I have noticed a release from a confinement I did not know I was perpetuating. So perhaps being a ghost is incredibly liberating.
Meanwhile, I am going out to dig in my neglected garden.
Will be published in: The Mountain Stream Meditation Community Quarterly - Summer 2018
Hiding in a Pillar With Mixed Results
Hiding in a Pillar With Mixed Results
with Corey Hitchcock
Hide in a pillar. from a koan talk given at PZI's RMC in Oakland, CA
Can this be done? Once during an overwhelming period of my life, I created a long black cylinder of lightweight fabric which I hung from the ceiling of my studio. I moved a chair into its darkened center and sat down. Relief flooded me. Like a blinkered horse I was soothed back into my own experience.
Of course I sometimes also practice hiding in plain sight, which is another thing entirely. It is another way of leaving the moment. Of deflecting what the generous universe has in store for me.
A pillar is impermeable, a solid column of dense rock. Or is it? What is your pillar made of? Why do we need to hide when we do? And how? What if our pillar was permeable?
I liked to hide when I was a kid. Under the long table at Thanksgiving I was much more comfortable with the legs, shoes and stockings of my extended family than I was with their teasing and loud chatter. And I kept that kind of thing up with mixed results. I had an uncle who would call me out on my hiding and make a spectacle of me. If I was quiet my mother said I was sulking and got upset – I was hiding something from her and she didn’t like it. Mean girls at school would just not understand my solitude or unwillingness to play with them and tease me or shun me. I never really expected to provoke but in some ways my hiding was my own exclusionary cover-up.
You can’t really hide when you are pursuing truth in creative expression for me in visual art and writing. Well you can, and you can get away with it in conventional circles, but not at the cutting edge of things were comment matters. And if you try it won't go well for you with yourself.
In grad school as I assembled my quirky sculptures videos and writings for my final show I suddenly felt disconnected from my creations. I needed to inhabit them literally to make sure there was life there. When I did so early in morning with a good friend recording my investigation in a nearby intersection I got the surprise of my life. Not a soul was afoot. It was still dark, before dawn when I donned a large sectioned black fabric tube. It was ten feet tall when I held it aloft from inside with my arms over my head and had a long black tail of fabric that dragged on the ground past my bare feet.
The urban crows saw me and went into a frenzied screaming loud attack on something they could not figure out. I had to be a threat they figured. Only when I pulled off my costume did they stop and settle in nearby trees.
More recently I realized that my pillar was not what I thought it was. I was never really hidden and it was more about a pillar of light than solitary darkness. I created a little koan-ic experiment with a large tube of paper. I cut regular holes in it and asked a friend to hold it up so I could spin it. Sure enough the light flickers through it and I could see right through it.
Cosmic Inclusion - Corey Hitchcock
I watched a bed of moss recover itself from the weight of my body. I had fallen asleep without meaning to in this sweet glade. What was it that allowed the moss to come back to itself so effortlessly? What core memory propelled each delicate branching strand to stand again? My living mattress encouraged vivid dreams and returned me to rested health. What inner alignment in my body encouraged me to seek out a wild resting place?
Knowledge held in the body is often given less weight in daily decisions, a voice so close we tend to put it off. But I am made of mossy resilience. My body carries a profound capacity for renewal in every cell. We are cosmic antennae at play in a vast nourishing field. I stretch toward the sun, sleep, wake and drink water. Sometimes when I open my mouth stars fall out.
A friend who was dying said with dark humor, ‘I am disassembling.’ And yet he thought with ease about writing his next book, reconfiguring his new home so he could work. He radically overestimated the time he had left, overriding messages from his body about shutting down, leaving. I was caught with him in that moment by his story and believed with him. Two days later in shock and grief, I reflected on how easily we are deceived by thoughts, the certainty of ongoing plans, our status in the world. How can I not continue to be here?
Swimming in a pond full of lotuses beaming with magenta-tipped blooms, I splashed water droplets across the rough surface of a round leaf pad. The drops beaded like mirrored balls of mercury and reflected the entire scene in perfect miniature, me included, little myriad eyes of the universe. Floating in that green fecundity I reveled in the swirling bands of cool spring water mixing with the warmer surface currents. I was playing in that pond with friends in a crazy armada of floating craft; old rowboats, broken surfboards and a partially submerged redwood plank. I realized at some point that the pond was also playing with us, infusing us with its own messages of life and renewal. The watery essence of our bodies resonated with this other living being.
When we returned in the afternoon to the meditation hall, we brought the pond’s cosmic message with us.
Mountain Stream Quarterly Newsletter Fall, 2017
Zen Barista -Corey Hitchcock
Coffee the secret plasma of a weeklong meditation retreat? Who knew? Beneath the insightful dharma talks, deep meditations and creative vegetarian menus, this odorous river of dark, very strong coffee coursed. And let no one say there is no coffee at 5 am before the first sit! That is entirely unacceptable, middle way or no, neglecting those damp grounds is grounds for shunning. Service is a part of any sangha's weeklong offsite sesshin, and my vow for this week: ‘I vow to never allow the coffee to run out’.
‘Don’t even think it.’, someone said without humor. The coffee-making machine at the rear of the lunchroom began to feel like a factory spewing peat colored liquid eighteen hours of every day and night. I was its faithful attendant, filling and dumping the pungent, frothy filtered grounds. A not so sacred spring, and me the keeper. Busy minds busier, I thought, not a coffee drinker myself. Zen koans and the art of keeping coffee flowing I thought.
On a morning break I wandered near the large bronze bell used to call us to sit, and the heavy gongs to announce meals. The deep well of the sangha bell was studded outside with metal knobs the size of a man’s thumb and held the traces of sacred sounds as light blue orbs in photos I took of the inside. From my lunchroom coffee-maker window I could watch the timekeeper in her industrial headphones, pounding away like a fierce jazz percussionist, on the huge bell and wooden boards. Clanging out an ancient score to frighten off demons, rain or shine. The deep well of the four coffee thermoses were just as mysterious.
Peering inside in predawn darkness I tested the height of liquid before running in to sit. I began to view the zendo as a zen hospital with treatment rooms, emergency room and busy liaisons as medical assistants, Roshis as learned doctors, their rakusus the badges of rank and specialization. Transfusions for transformative practice, guaranteed to clear the busy mind or throw it into blissful clarifying hyperdrive. Filters full of soggy black grounds piled up. Skunky bloodtype: Peet's Major Dickison blend, dispensed in silence to suffering and blissful meditators alike.
'Which one is freshest?' A querant whispered earnestly, as I made pot after pot. 'Well, they are all pretty darn fresh.' I would reply replenishing as fast as humanly possible.
Even one of the Roshis, unable to wait for the next pot to fill before dashing back to his interview room, stuck his cup without apology directly beneath the dark flow streaming between filter and pot. ‘I used to work in a lot of restaurants.’ he said.
Zen Barista-Corey Hitchcock Published Mtn Stream Meditation Center Online quarterly 2016
Gas & Weather - Corey Hitchcock
Gas and Weather - Corey Hitchcock
‘What about these clouds? Are we in for some weather?’ Asked the vacationer from L.A. ‘Well, look at it this way,’ said the patient ranger. ‘You’ve got an eighty percent chance the weather will hold, and a twenty percent chance it won’t.’ The man’s anxiety was not alleviated. He needed to know that this would be a good vacation. The ranger him to another ranger who would hopefully help him achieve his camping desires.
‘I don’t care what the weather brings.’ I thought. It was close to ninety degrees in the high desert that day. There were a few clouds drifting over from the northeast. I got my camping permit and headed off to set up my tent, just before sunset, beneath a rugged peak in the eastern sierra.
On an upward winding trail the next morning, I marveled at the profusion of wildflowers, and the healthy flow of the high-country waterfalls I could see originating well above me among barren peaks. The moment I got back to my car, heavy drops of rain sloshed down on my windshield.
The gas gauge was insistent, but I did not want to pay exorbitant prices at the nearby lake resort. I remembered finding very cheap gas to the north. I decided to risk the drive. When I got there, the station had changed its prices from 2.74 several days before to over 4 dollars a gallon. Was this possible, legal? Was this the same station? Not at all what I expected.
As I purchased my expensive gas, a glance through the windows behind the register revealed the darkest sky I had ever seen in daylight hours. A man next to me in line commented that this had come out of nowhere. The girl behind the register, looked at us placidly.
The drive back began with a clap of thunder and slow progress up the pass, while spectacular forks of lightening attacked a nearby peak which looked more and more sulfurous. When I finally pulled into camp, it was abuzz with wool-capped campers shouting storm stories around soggy fires, and a dashboard thermometer registering 40 degrees. I had missed the cold heart of the storm, but there was a substantial mound of melting snow behind my tent, thankfully still reasonably dry. Everything else was soaked. I scrambled into warmer clothes.
Gas and weather I thought, laughing at myself.
Mtn Stream Med. Center Quarterly Newsletter fall 2015
Hiking the Edge - Corey Hitchcock
Hiking the Edge - Corey Hitchcock,
Letting go is serious business. But so is holding on. If I am holding on to a rock ledge, higher up than is good for me, I know there will be consequences if I let go.
Maybe a helicopter ride, with the unpleasant possibility of broken limbs and months of tedious rehab. But, there are also places I hold on tightly when I do not need to; where there would be absolutely no danger in a release. And yet these ledges are the most difficult to navigate.
What do I imagine will happen if I loosen my grip? Will I explode, fall apart, shrivel and die? That is unlikely. But a story can weave a powerful spell. It can hide the possibility of a deeper truth. In that moment, I am mezmerized and have to hold back until I discover a way to trust, to move beyond that familiar viewpoint.
Once, on my first day in Zion National Park, I hiked straight up from the floor of the valley, on a steeply ascending trail. I met another hiker along the way, and we traveled on together. He said to me at one point, as we tired, moving steadily higher on the narrow switch-backing trail: ‘You are doing better than I did my first day! I got to this one point ahead, and just suddenly couldn’t go any further. I felt I would fall off the world.’
And very soon, ahead of us, the trail made a sharp turn where it disappeared into oblivion. I scanned the deep shadowed valley, and the impossibly high cliffs on the opposite mesa. There was nothing between me, and the pull of that vast abyss. I sat down and could not get up. My body imposed vertigo, and refused to let me stand.
My hiker friend said he was going on, because if he hesitated, he wouldn’t make the turn either. He encouraged me, and said he knew I would eventually make it too. The trail was perfectly safe, he said, it was an illusion I would eventually develop a capacity to move through without stopping.
These junctures are becoming more familiar to me now. I walk more confidently through my tightly held beliefs, growing my capacity to move, step by step around each fearsome turn, breath upon breath toward that more expansive view.
Mtn Stream Med. Center Online Quarterly Newsletter summer 2015